American football coaches often use the quote, “fatigue makes cowards of us all”. Fatigue can also have other negative effects on performance. An earlier post described what happens to passing accuracy as fatigue develops. Using the Loughborough Soccer Passing Test (LSPT), researchers showed that fatigue, whether caused by match-play or high-intensity running markedly reduced the accuracy of short passes. In a new study appearing in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers found that a four week program of interval training lessened the effects of fatigue on passing accuracy. They suggest that aerobic training might benefit players in terms of maintaining their technical skills at the end of a match.
Dr. Franco Impellizzeri and colleagues divided the 18 year old trained soccer players into two groups. One group served as a control group while the other participated in four weeks of an interval training program. For the LSPT, players were asked to complete 16 passes to different targets as fast as possible. Penalty time is assessed when the passes do not strike the target (see the earlier post for a detailed description of the LSPT). Players performed the LSPT before and after a bout of fatiguing exercise and repeated the testing before and after the four-week training period.
Prior to starting the training program, both groups LSPT performance declined as the result of fatigue. Both the total time needed to complete the test and the assessed penalty time was increased. This is consistent with what had been found previously – fatigue negatively impacts passing accuracy.
At the end of the four weeks, the training group had improved VO2max (aerobic fitness) and performed better on the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test. As expected, interval training increased fitness. More importantly, the increase in penalty time caused by fatigue was reduced following training. In the fatigued state, the trained players were able to accurately complete more passes than was the control group. In short, they suffered less deterioration of their technical skills.
The important outcome of this study is that aerobic training (in this case interval training) seems to offset the effects of fatigue on technical performance. It’s not clear if this results from improved muscle fitness or some neuro-cognative improvement. Whatever the explanation, this study emphasizes that aerobic training might improve the player’s ability to accurately execute short passes during the later stages of a match. This is yet another important reason to include a fitness component in the player’s regulalr training routine.
Impellizzeri FM, Rampinini E, Maffiuletti NA, Castagna C, Bizzini M, Wisloff U (2008) Effects of aerobic training on the exercise-induced decline in short passing ability in junior soccer players. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 33:1192-1198.